Stone mining in Meghalaya destroying lives in Assam

Man-animal conflict: The quarrying is affecting farmers in neighbouring Assam as elephants roam around the paddy fields even during the day.
Last Updated 10 December 2018, 03:45 IST

The usual harvesting euphoria is missing among farmers in this village although Assam witnessed good paddy cultivation this year.

"What is the use of working so hard? Just look at the destruction," said Nripen Das, a farmer, while pointing to the numerous elephant footmarks and the destruction left behind in his paddy field by the jumbo herds, often coming down from the hills in neighbouring Meghalaya.

Das used to reap at least 40 mounds of paddy (40 kg makes a mound) in each bigha of land, but decided to cut down cultivation due to the growing problem of elephant depredation.

Like Das, many in the area have given up paddy cultivation to avoid elephant depredation. "A few years ago, a farmer was trampled to death here," he said — sign of similar fear visible in his face.

The villagers attribute the increasing problem to the haphazard stone mining on the hills in Meghalaya. "Earlier, elephants used to come out only at night, but now they roam around the paddy fields even during day. They can't stay on the hills as stone miners are exploding the boulders there with bombs, and trees are often cut to make roads to transport the stones and earth," Das said.

The DH correspondent saw stone mining going on the Meghalaya hills, situated about a kilometer north from this village, which is nearly 25-km west of Guwahati. The stones are then transported to the crushing units situated along Assam-Meghalaya border areas, from where they reach the construction sites in Guwahati and its outskirts.

Stone mining going on the Meghalaya hills. (Photo: <g class=
Stone mining going on the Meghalaya hills. (Photo:
Manash Das)"/>

Dinesh Das, a local social activist said, since the forests in Meghalaya are community-owned, the government has very little control over mining in the hills, and this has caused much disturbance to the wildlife.

"These hills are situated on the disputed borders. A case is pending with the Supreme Court for years as both Assam and Meghalaya claim this areas as their own. The mining rackets are taking advantage of lack of administration in the area. Even some people engaged in stone mining are chasing elephants from the hills with air gun, and so they are coming down in fear and for food and water," he said.

According to Das, the elephant problem has affected livelihood of around 5,000 farmers in villages like Andherijuli, Bakrapara, Garopara, Satargaon and others — all close to the Rani Reserve forest in Assam's Kamrup district.

"Not less than 500 bighas of land are lying uncultivated due to elephant problem," he said.

Nripen, a father of three children, now works as a helper with mason and many like him are working as wood cutters, daily wager and even in mining units for livelihood.

Podumi Das, wife of farmer Paben Das, looked blank as she stood in her courtyard. "We don't have paddy now. Even bananas, pineapples and jackfruit we grow in our backyards are also eaten by the elephants," said Podumi, standing with her five-year-old daughter, Manjori.

Mohan Rabha (70), a farmer in Puran Sukurberia village, says the elephant problem has increased in the past two decades. "Earlier, we could chase them by beating a tin box or a fireball, but now they don't go even if we attack them with sharp weapons," he said.

Forest officials in Assam cited encroachment and destruction of elephant corridors as the two main reasons of increasing elephant depredation in these areas. Meanwhile, most households have constructed tree-top bamboo huts to keep vigil on their paddy fields and chase elephants at night.

(Published 09 December 2018, 15:39 IST)

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